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Soap Box Special: Holiday Grief

As I stand on the threshold of the fourth holiday season since the loss of my dear dad, introspection has taken a more prominent role in my journey. This year, I've leaned into the emotions that were once neatly packed away, recognizing that simplicity had been a shield against the pain and void that accompanies the loss of love. Writing now, I aim to normalize the permanence of grief—it doesn't halt or conclude. Instead, it becomes a companion, accompanying us every step of our journey. While we may discover moments of brightness or silver linings, it does not erase the persistent ache; instead, this ache transforms into a permanent facet of our character. Understanding this concept is one of the most challenging aspects of the grieving process—accepting the notion that our lives have been irreversibly rearranged while those around us seemingly resume normalcy with their loved ones intact. It's a reality, a test of resilience in navigating the changed existence.

In the passing year, a wave of frustration and, at times, anger became prominent — not born out of a refusal to accept the situation but rather a wish for a different outcome. While tears still mark my journey, the reservoir has shifted from a deep pool to a smaller puddle. It's an odd evolution, a testament to the complexities of navigating grief. Societal norms dictate that parents naturally precede their children in death, a notion considered normal. Yet, my relationship with my dad was uniquely rooted in friendship; he wasn't just a father but also my best friend, mentor, and confidant. He was the grounding force that tethered me to reality. The pain now resides in the awareness that time continues to progress, pushing me further into a future where I will live more of my life without him, a reality faced with hope and a touch of surrender to the passage of time.

Navigating the holiday season has proven to be a journey for me, and as early as November 1st, a sense of anxiety begins to loom over the upcoming festivities. My heightened sensitivity and deep empathy may amplify the emotional weight associated with this time of year, triggering uneasiness. Once filled with warmth and joy, the holidays now cast a shadow as the void left by loss expands, making gatherings feel intimidating. It's as if every emotional frequency in the room converges, blending happiness and sadness into turbulence. Amidst this emotional storm, persistent guilt emerges—guilt for my struggle to find joy in the season, the desire to seek solitude, and the perception that I might be letting others down. The metaphorical faucets are left running, and my dimmed light adds to my emotions, shifting the balance between my internal struggles and external expectations.

Grief is a lasting presence woven into the fabric of our lives. It defies a predictable trajectory. Instead, it manifests sporadically, an unpredictable tide that ebbs and flows. While grief is a collective experience that unites us in the human condition, it often remains concealed, a silent force operating beneath the surface. It can be triggered unexpectedly, perhaps by the seemingly mundane—a glance at the frozen pizza aisle, the echo of a familiar text message, or the resonance of a carefully archived voicemail—an attempt to cling to and preserve fragments of what feels lost. Grief is the ongoing endeavor to safeguard the intangible remnants of what once was, a testament to the intricate nature of loss.

Exposure to grief feels weird. It's all weird, but why? Why have we made it this way? I wish it could be celebrated. Like, "hell yeah, you experienced love in its truest form," but now you must suffer the repercussions. I get it; it feels weird to be the girl who continues to share the story of her late father. It seems like I should not be living in the past, but why? All I want is for people to experience a fraction of the love that my dad gave me. I want him to be known and remembered. I want to breathe life into his legacy. Grief and happiness, seemingly opposing emotions, can coexist within the tapestry of the human experience. The journey through grief is not a linear path, and moments of happiness don't diminish the depth of one's sorrow. Instead, they remind us that even in the darkest hours, the essence of love and cherished memories can persist, creating a delicate balance where grief and happiness coexist, shaping a resilient human spirit.

The intersection of trauma and grief is tumultuous. The long-term effects of the emotional impact and the physical implications are profound; we take away so much from the experience. What I have learned from grief stems from how incredible humans are in developing resiliency during adverse times. Moments in grief teach us to navigate and endure profound emotional pain, fostering resilience in the wave of life's challenges. My mom would always chime in to say that after this experience, she has earned enough strength to "benchpress a Buick." With grief, you develop a new level of empathy and compassion and can look at other's experiences and feel their pain. You learn to reevaluate your priorities and focus on meaningful relationships rather than superficial pursuits. You learn that emotions are complex and multifaceted, and you will surprise yourself with how you can process a wide range of feelings. Your appreciation for the ordinary aspects of life grows, recognizing that moments can be taken for granted. You will learn that love will transcend the physical presence, and the impact of a loved one will continue to shape your life positively. A legacy of love will remain.

Now, this wouldn't be something written by yours truly without including a list, so without further adieu. 

Things that have personally helped me with my experience with grief: 

  1. When the tides rise, ride the waves. You can't bottle up the ocean. Accept the ebbs and flows of where you are at. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to scream, scream. If you need to speak your truth, say it out loud. Don't scrutinize yourself for feeling your emotions. The more frequently you feel them, the more cleansed you will be. 

  2. Daily Celebration. Can you integrate your loved one's memory into your daily life to help you connect with them? Establishing a ritual in their memory makes them feel more immersed in your life. For example, my dad loved to burn incense, so I like to start my mornings burning his favorite brand of incense and drinking coffee. 

  3. Nature. Stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air is therapeutic. In the moments created outside, I can feel my dad's presence. Lean into the idea that their gifts and beauty have unfolded into every perfect aspect of the world. Sunrises, sunsets, snowflakes falling, they are there. 

  4. Look for Signs. Alright, take a moment to put on your 'woo-woo' hat and hear me out if you can find it in your heart to believe that the glimmers and good moments in your life are brought forth by those lost. You will find a sense of peace in the moments of serendipity formed by the help of your guardian beings. When I find the perfect parking spot, a dollar bill on the sidewalk, I get out of jury duty. I thank my dad and grandad. I want to give them credit for the tiny blessings. Say it out loud - thank you, thank you, thank you! For a long time, I feared asking for signs because I didn't want to be let down or unable to find them, but if you believe you will find them, I promise you will. 

  5. Strength in Asking for Help. If you're like me, your brain's conversations can feel daunting. If you find yourself in a grief spiral, let your support pillars know. Especially as time passes, it's okay to let others know you are experiencing intense feelings. You are not in this alone. 

  6. Empathy & Connection with other Grievers. Those who get it get it. We all need community, but it takes a special community of others willing to share their most vulnerable experiences. Connecting with others grieving will help you feel less alone in the experience. 

  7. Memorializing through Acts of Kindness. Incorporate acts of kindness in honor of your loved one. Whether volunteering, donating to a cause they cared about, or performing random acts of compassion, these actions become a meaningful way to pay tribute. It transforms grief into a positive force, fostering a sense of connection and purpose in keeping their spirit alive through benevolent deeds. This celebrates their memory and contributes to a greater sense of community.

  8. Gratitude Journaling. Incorporating a daily gratitude practice has been a powerful tool for me in navigating grief. Reflecting on even the smallest moments of beauty or kindness helps shift the focus from loss to appreciation. It's a reminder that amidst sorrow, aspects of life still bring joy and connection.

  9. Creative Expression. Engaging in creative activities has provided a therapeutic outlet for me. Whether writing, painting, or playing music, channeling emotions into artistic expression can be cathartic and transformative. It allows for a tangible representation of feelings and serves as a unique form of self-healing.

  10. Mindfulness Walks: Taking mindful walks has become a sanctuary for me. Instead of just walking for exercise, I focus on the sights, sounds, and sensations around me. It's a meditative experience that grounds me in the present moment, offering a temporary respite from the weight of grief. These walks also serve as a time for reflection and connection with the memories of your loved one.

These practices have been instrumental in my journey through grief, providing diverse avenues for expression, reflection, and connection. They serve as reminders that healing is multifaceted and can be approached in ways that resonate with individual experiences.

If you've made it this far, I extend my gratitude for sharing this space and immersing yourself in my experience. In a world often hesitant to embrace the depths of grief, your willingness to bear witness is a gift. As we navigate our paths, I encourage you to acknowledge your emotional landscape, wherever it may be persistently, and to honor the feelings and growth you've cultivated. May this shared vulnerability foster a greater sense of connection and understanding, reminding us that, in our collective stories, we find the strength to navigate the complexities of life.



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